Where does nice guy come from?
We've been describing a man who is a kind, thoughtful person as a nice guy since at least the early 1900s, as far as the written record is concerned. Nice fellow predates it, evidenced in the early 1800s.
His reputation, though, hasn't aged well. Nice guy has become a stand-in for a loser, particularly in dating contexts.
He shows up in the saying nice guys finish last—agreeable people who get overpowered by their more assertive counterparts—which is credited to Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in 1946. He famously dissed the New York Giants that season when he said of their near-bottom standing: "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place." Reporting eventually rendered the quote into nice guys finish last.
Nice guy also makes an appearance in no more Mr. Nice Guy, said when someone is throwing down—and implying nice guys are soft and weak. Alice Cooper rocked the saying in his 1973 track "No More Mr. Nice Guy." A reporter memorably asked it of Richard Nixon about the Vietnam War in 1977. No more Mr. Nice Guy is also associated with an old joke about Hitler.
When nice guy makes the jump from sports, politics, and rock 'n' roll to romance isn't exactly clear, but the expressions nice guys finish last and no more Mr. Nice Guy certainly contributed to the trope of the nice guy—a perfectly harmless dude who is just, well, kind of uninteresting and unappealing.
Since at least the late 1980s, as evidenced in an early internet-message group, romantically unsuccessful men have self-identified as the nice guy, always losing out to the bad boy. In the 1990s and early 2000s, sociologists were even using nice guy, in one form or another, as a concept when studying dating behavior and psychology. Their findings show that nice guys do indeed finish last—in some cases.
What gives? You're a nice guy, but ... your kindness is masking some serious insecurities, if not expecting it to be rewarded with sex. At least that's in part how the website Heartless Bitches International saw it in their 2002 screed against the nice guy. In the feminist blogosphere in the 2010s, the screed helped influence Nice Guy™ and Nice Guy Syndrome, terms for men who think being nice alone entitles them sex. The manosphere had its answer, including incels and Men Going Their Own Way, subcultures who blame women for their romantic and sexual failures.
Not all men have taken criticisms of the contemporary nice guy so self-seriously, though. Hundreds of thousands belong to the subreddit r/niceguys, intended to make fun of nice guys who fail to take responsibility for their own shortcomings.
Who uses nice guy?
In everyday speech and writing, plenty of people describe genuinely good dudes as nice guys.
— Elena Wolf (@Spanish_Dancer) May 25, 2018
I took this small video today, to show how lovely @SamHeughan Really is to all of us fans when he meets us. Super nice guy!#OutlanderFilming #CumbernauldGlen 28/05/18 🏴❤ pic.twitter.com/6DHqxE8NBs
— Carrie Robertson 🎬🎥📸🏴 (@carrierob34) May 28, 2018
This is true, too, of desired romantic partners:
I just want to find a nice guy in Connecticut who likes to go on random drives, eat wings late at night, and go to concerts at the drop of a dime. 😩🤷🏻♀️
— slippery tube dude. 🐍🦎 (@wtfskylr) May 25, 2018
Just be very mindful that the nice guy is also a shorthand for a type of hypocritical, sexually entitled man, often associated with snapping into sexism or misogyny when his performed niceness isn't met with romantic or sexual favors.
if you claim to be a "nice guy" but keep making advances on women despite being told no multiple times. guess what? you're not a nice guy. and you can fuck right off!
— Mari (@mari_glass) May 26, 2018
Self proclaimed nice guy: hello m'lady I am a gentleman and a nice guy I actually respect women and will treat you right
Me: ok cool, I'm a lesbian btw:
Nice guy: how dare you waste my time you and lead me on you thot this is why no one trusts women you're all liars and hoes
— lucem the loser (@Gay_Ass_Weeb) May 28, 2018
Expect nice guy to be very frequently used in the expression nice guys finish last and no more Mr. Nice Guy. These can refer to dating, but their senses are by no means restricted to that context.
That’s it, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Jan, We been patient enough, where is our renewal. It’s been over 2 weeks without a single beep from you guys over at @nbc. What’s the hold up. You think by staying quiet we will just go away into the sunset. Think again.#Timeless #RenewTimeless pic.twitter.com/yWYuWah60K
— IdaG (@iday2j) May 29, 2018
Oh hey, I found a nice guy to talk to. Bets on how long it takes until he turns into a douche bag? lol
@sasssynsweet, May, 2018
i’m not one of those “fuck boys”, i’m a super nice guy, a class act. ladies if you’re reading this i will treat you like a princess.
@rileyraybans, March, 2018
It certainly seems that there’s a reason why Edward, David and Oscar didn’t end up with the girls, and that’s because these filmmakers recognise that “nice guys”’s problematic actions shouldn’t be rewarded with a happy ending. Save those for the actual nice guys.
Hanna Flint, The Guardian, May, 2018